Though I have always hated the actual application of the 1ed AD&D bard, it is one of the first examples of a prestige class in D&D. I also appreciate the concept — after traveling the world, a bard has accumulated enough stories, tales, songs and information to be able to do all the things a bard does.
Thus, at 4th level a character may choose to become a bard (and this choice must be made at 4th level) — any character. This helps account for such diverse bard-like concepts as St. Romanos, Gandalf, King Henry V as well as the fast-talking, puffy sleeved fop.
In order to gain the abilities of a bard, the character must sacrifice all of the abilities they would have gained for that level from their own class, save hit dice. Thus, fighters would continue to fight as a 3rd level fighter, magic users and clerics would cast spells as at 3rd level, thief skill would remain at 3rd level, etc. Once a character becomes a bard, they advance according to the x.p. requirements of their original class. At each level they may choose to either improve their old class skills or their bard abilities by one level.
I realize that this is unbalanced in that it is much more expensive in x.p. to gain bard abilities for a magic user than a thief. I made this choice for ease of implementation — there need not be any kind of complicated X.P. chart, etc. The differences can be explained by class affinity to the bardic abilities — thieves are more naturally good at being bards than are magic users.
In thinking about how to do a bard (in a way that I'd be interested in playing one), I personally think three abilities are more-or-less universal in everyone's concept of the class:
- Legend Lore
- Battlefield Morale Bonus
Legend Lore is the ability to attach a story or piece of history to places and things found while adventuring. I would begin with a simple 1 in 6 chance to know something interesting. This chance goes up by 1 for every level taken in bard abilities.
Charm is potentially the most powerful and therefore abusive ability of the bard. As I see it there are three ways to limit this potential power:
- Understand it as a spell and therefore limit the number of uses per day. This could be either a static number (3/day) or a number based on level (1/every three levels).
- Limit its potency by allowing two saving throws — one based on the level of the bard (some kind of skill check) and another based on the level/HD of the target (normal save vs. spells). I would start this skill check at 1 in 6. This chance goes up by 1 for every level taken in bard abilities.
- Remove the spell effects and tie it to monster reactions. On a successful skill check (again, beginning at 1 in 6, but with the understanding that this can be mitigated through good roleplaying) allows the bard to move a reaction check one or more categories up or down the reaction table.
Personally, I am inclined to choose the second, but include the other options for the purpose of discussion and allowing some flexibility for both Referees and players.
Battlefield Morale Bonus is normally emulated by a simple bonus to various combat rolls. Personally, I never liked this choice. It becomes necessary, however, if this ability is to have a positive effect upon PCs, who never have to check morale. In order to make the mechanism more interesting and unique, I would offer a negative effect — one per combat, a bard can force opposing monsters within 30 feet to make a morale check. This check would suffer a penalty for each subsequent improvement in bard ability. A morale check of '2' always succeeds and monsters with a morale of '12' are unaffected.